How To Keep Your Audio Guy Happy (for musicians)
Every working audio engineer feels the stress of an upcoming session, seasoned professionals and newbies alike. Gear that just worked minutes ago starts acting up, software starts giving you errors, etc. Sometimes personal life rears its head at the worst possible moment and demands your attention.
Understand That We Are Human
We have problems just like everyone else. What we really want to do is ignore them until they go away. We want to run a FLAWLESS recording session where everything works PERFECTLY and everyone has great energy.
Understand that we are trying our best to make this a reality.
Please treat us with kindness and patience if we step away for a few moments to get some sun, smoke a cigarette, or tell the girlfriend we’ll be working late. We’re shuffling our lives around to accommodate your schedule because we love you.
Give Us Coffee
Coffee is the nectar of the gods. A good studio will usually accommodate you with coffee, however, you should hit up your engineer on your way to the session and see if he wants anything (even food). The truth is, we don't always have time to grab something, because we are often troubleshooting equipment issues or putting finishing touches on that rough mix you wanted. Maybe our assistant called in sick, or we’re trying to get a microphone back from another studio that borrowed it. When this happens, we focus on solving those problems while forgetting our own basic needs.
We Are Not City Hall
The most awkward thing you can do to an engineer is put them in the middle of your band arguments. Keep the fighting out of the studio. Fighting is the best way to destroy any motivation and energy you had to put into a good recording. Instead, elect one delegate to make decisions on behalf of the group. Let this person talk with the engineer. Please and thank you.
Don’t Drink / Get Super High Before Recording
If you come in messed up, your engineer will probably wait to see what happens on the recording. I have yet to see a stellar performance from someone high as a kite, but it’s your record. Our job is to make sure it sounds professional, and anything you can do performance wise to help us out is greatly appreciated.
We blocked out our time for you, so not being able to perform your parts really throws a wrench in our schedule.
Performance makes a huge difference between a great record and a mediocre one. Plan your 420 schedule accordingly. Some engineers will not tolerate it whatsoever and ask you to come back sober. I’m not that ruthless, but I understand where they’re coming from.
Properly Maintain Your Instrument
I shake my head in sorrow every time I see a drummer that can’t tune his kit. I never understood how people can have so much passion for music, yet fail to maintain their gear. Change out your heads regularly and get new ones if you plan to record. Replace cracked sticks, cymbals, etc. Also, bring different beater heads, if you have them, and dampeners (moon gels or rings).
Guitar and bass players: Learn what intonation is or get a reputable luthier to set up your guitar if you can’t do it yourself. Here’s a boring video on proper guitar intonation:
Also check your frets for fret wear, and if you’re getting low, you might want to get a fret level and re-crown job on your guitar (especially if your frets are nickel and not stainless steel). Trust me, a $200 guitar with a proper setup will be much more enjoyable and comfortable to play on than a $1000 guitar without it.
Check the batteries in your pedal board and make sure your connector cables aren’t shorting out. It’s just not fun to make a run to Guitar Center in the middle of a recording session.
I didn’t forget about you, vocalists! We know that dairy, cold water, and junk food can make you sound like garbage. Please just don’t do it on the days you’re expected to perform. Don’t over-exert yourself if you have a show the night before the recording session. Also, get a good night's sleep (which actually applies to everyone).
Check Your Ego
We engineers have egos too. A good engineer will recognize that and take control of their emotions in the studio. We have to be as OBJECTIVE as possible about recordings, performances, and tones. We are trying to make the entire record sound cohesive. Sometimes this may mean making sacrifices in certain areas, such as filtering out the low-end on guitars to make room for bass. This could also mean asking the vocalist to try singing a different note because they are trying to sing out of their range. We usually make suggestions based on experience. It doesn’t come from the intention to control you, “take over” the recording, or change your band’s sound.
Just remember, while you focus on your instrument during the recording process, we’re listening to how it fits in with EVERYTHING. The greater good of the record can sometimes outweigh your immediate desires.
Be On Time
(But Not Super Early)
Nothing frustrates an engineer more than when you show up late, especially without letting us know. As I stated earlier, we have blocked out time for you. There might be someone coming into the studio after you, so showing up late pushes back the entire schedule for the day. It’s a domino effect that results in us working late. Just don’t do it.
That being said, coming in early can also be distracting to us. We take into account your setup times and show up early to get the gear ready. We also might use that time to work on a mix for you or another client coming in that day. Most engineers are night owls, not morning people, so forgive us if we just want to be in our own little world an hour before your appointment. If you leave early to give yourself wiggle room for traffic (which is always good), and you end up arriving more than 10 minutes early, maybe just chill in your car for a few and get in the zone for your recording session.
About the Author
Austin Kirk is a US Air Force veteran and an audio production graduate from the Art Institute of Austin. He spent his teenage years overseas in Japan and now works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Podsworth Media. His love for audio has driven him to produce music for many local artists in the Austin, TX area, including his own band, MACRO.